Thursday, July 16, 2009

Art in Des Moines 2007

Best and Worst of 2007

Artist of the Year - Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen

Most artists take time off to recuperate from cancer surgery, Luchsinger and his better half opted for the therapy of hard work, producing some of the most eye opening creations of their brilliant mutual career. (Currently at Moberg Gallery).

Design of the Year - Dewaay Capital Management Corporate Headquarters by Jeffrey Morgan

If you could cross the rustic majesty of Gilbert Stanley Underwood with a little form-follows-function discipline from Bauhaus gospel you would get something like this new corporate campus in Clive. You’d also have a new standard of style in the western suburbs.

Runner-up - Interstate 235. The city has focused for decades now on impressing airport visitors while ignoring the vast majority visit by car. This finally presents the latter with a slick first impression of Des Moines.

Worst Design of the Year,- Ingersoll beautification project

If they can’t remove that ugly protective wrap from the new power poles, then please, try taking them back to Home Depot for a refund.
Runner-up - Interstate 235. It didn’t seem possible but somehow designers found a way to raise and arc all the freeway bridges while diminishing the sight lines and prohibiting safe right turns off exit ramps.

Gallery Show of the Year - “Sculpture” at Moberg Gallery

This was a monumental undertaking with Robert Craig, John Philip Davis, Chris Vance, TJ Moberg, Stretch, Bob Cooper and Tom Moberg all contributing big work for an indoor-outdoor show.

Runner-up - “Birds” currently at Olson-Larsen. This exhibition includes a roomful of Michael Brangoccio’s epic meditations on faith and physics.

New Artist of the Year - Robert Craig

It doesn’t seem fair but this talented Drake professor fits our criteria for a new artist: The “Sculpture” exhibition was actually the first time his work had ever been shown collectively in one place. Craig’s year culminated with a commission for a series of large sculptures for the Village of Ponderosa.

Best Performance Art - Joffrey Ballet at Art Fest

Thanks to Hancher Auditorium, this amazing show was free. Shawn Johnson was disqualified from this category because her best performances were out of state.

Museum Show of the Year - “Hug: Recent Work by Patricia Piccinini” at Des Moines Art Center Downtown

This Aussie artist’s first one-person museum exhibition in the United States introduced hyper-realistic sculptures to the ethical debates over cloning, stem cell research, intellectual rights over genetic material and good stewardship. Her adorable creatures (“Don’t call them freaks”) changed the way many visitors think about endangered species and “artificial life.”

Runner-up “Meet the New You” at Des Moines Art Center. Another thinking person’s show, this brought radical ideas concerning future shock from four worldly artists.

Story of the Year - Culver dumps Walker

New Iowa Governor Chet Culver took charge by dumping the successful, high-profile head of Iowa’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Anita Walker was soon hired to manage the arts agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Runner-up: ArtStop brings tourists and a new collective effort to town.

Logo of the Year - AIA Iowa Convention

The American Institute of Architects ought to carry a handicap in this category.

Worst Logo of the Year - Iowa State University sports

ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard compared this new brand to both Disney’s trademark ears and McDonalds’ golden arches. Who knew that in Ames, there IS an I in team. And a big ego in charge.

Most Ambitious Show - “Stellar Axis” currently at Hentshel Art Gallery

This exhibition credited 22 people including a “grant writing adviser.” The Des Moines show chronicles the work of five who traveled as close as possible to the South Pole to assemble an installation for a summer solstice photo shoot. Thank the National Science Foundation for funding and logistics and thank Lita Albuquerque for the vision and stamina.

Volunteers of the Year - Mary Muller, Sue Sweitzer and Don Dunagan
Collectively this trio of art teachers took art therapy into the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women and the Iowa Veterans Hospital and produced three exhibitions of their students’ works.

Restoration of the Year - Oreon E. Scott Memorial Chapel at Drake University by Substance

An Eero Saarinen classic was treated with due respect.

Runner-up. Azalea Restaurant by Mike Hutchison and friends.

November 2007

Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen:
The Way It Was

It isn’t easy being Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen. The couple’s collective nature is private, meditative and rural - that of philosopher and earth mother mutually bonded into one soul. Yet within many public parts of America, Strohbeen is a celebrity. Their PBS television series “The Perennial Gardener with Karen Strohbeen” stole their freedom to travel anonymously. People perceive Karen as some kind of divine authority over the green realms where bishop’s hat and crane‘s-bill need tending. Luchsinger confided that even though the couple keeps the location of their rural studio a secret, fans find it and just drop in on them without warning.

The TV series was a detour these artists took with different intentions in mind.

“We wanted to share the ephemeral moment with others - that blink or you miss it second, when a growing thing meets the perfect moment. Or when Fall turns lovely and you so badly want other people to be there, but they can‘t be there. That’s why the documentation became important,” Strohbeen explained.

A detour within that detour turned the couple into pioneers of digital art, years before David Hockney and the mainstream art media “discovered” it. Some quarter century ago, the couple wanted to add graphics to video. So they bought a computer.

“The computer represented a tool. It was a tool developed by the military industrial complex. From the beginning we’ve been interested in softening the applications of that technology, and expanding its possibilities,” Karen explained.

“Our first IBM computer came with a graphics package that could be operated with a brand new technological tool called ‘a mouse.’ Karen thought that was the nuts,” Bill recalled.

When they began mousing around, digital art was painstaking work. Just to make a first generation color transparency they had to carry an 80 pound computer into a state of the art photo lab. In the mid 1980’s, they tracked down a company in Omaha that was making complex graphics cards for AT&T. They hired a University of Nebraska computer engineer and taught him everything they had learned about graphics technology. Then they bought a prototypical computer drawing board from Chrysler Motors. That was still several years before software that allowed direct printing would be invented, so they often photographed images off their monitors.

Karen was rather famous for her single line drawings - she never picks up her pencil when making an initial design. Early graphics software was geared to create in series of dots or impressions instead of in a continuous line. A digital print that represented her method had to be broken down into eight separate parts, because that was all that a computer could handle memory-wise.

“The first digital print took six months to complete. It took us longer to make a digital print then than a lithograph. We’d work around the clock, in shifts. Our computer never shut down,” they recalled.

“With this medium, more than any other, you have a direction that gets you started and only gets you started. What happens next is filled with possibilities and that’s what’s creative and exciting,” Luchsinger explained.

They have stayed ahead of “what happens next” in digital art ever since. Their new show at Moberg Gallery (November 27 - February 9, reception November 30) will be divided into two sections: new works; and a retrospective. Among 30 new digital works are some that show Strohbeen back at her old drawing board. Older works include some huge canvas paintings that have never been exhibited before in Des Moines.

Touts and Deadlines

Friday and Saturday: “Catalyst State: Iowa Design Weekend” brings designers with an environmental focus to town for a series of fashion shows, discussions, parties and films at various venues. Contact: Mary Muller, 278-2083,
marymuller@mchsi. com
Saturday: “Lita Albuquerque” debuts at Joan Hentschel.
November 30. Olson-Larsen’s long awaited “Birds” exhibition debuts. Bill Barnes, Michael Brangoccio and Wendy Rolfe are among eight artists using birds to represent concepts as diverse as freedom and confinement, hope and despair.
October 2007

John Phillip Davis: Vanity of Vanities

John Phillip Davis is the godfather of a young mob of Iowa artists who created an art scene in Des Moines in the last decade. Along with colleagues such as Chris Vance, Frank Hansen and T.J. Moberg, Davis built an art career without leaving Iowa. Doing that was a long-odds proposition when this gang began showing at street fairs and festivals in the 1990’s. Davis emerged as the ringleader with unusual discipline. Early on, he determined to create a limited number of large, heavily layered abstract paintings, rather than falling to the temptation of fewer and smaller, which are also much easier to sell. His works have always been characterized by a professional attention to details. The back ends of Davis paintings look like the finest furniture and even canvas edges are painted. His explanation recently for moving into a new studio showed similar focus and discipline.

“My other place was too comfortable. I was afraid it was becoming a distraction from the work. Plus, I’m not restricted size-wise now by the dimensions of the freight elevator,” he said about exchanging a studio with north-light windows and a dramatic view for a stark, dark one on the ground floor of an old warehouse.

Hanging prominently in public places like Des Moines University, Mercy Hospital and Trostel’s Dish, Davis’s abstract paintings have become a Des Moines art brand. Because they sell for mid-five figures, he’s aware that he may saturate this market.

“I do have to consider the next step,” he admits, adding that the internet has helped him sell to an international audience, so “moving on” isn’t as urgent as might have been for other generations of Iowa artists.
Davis is already moving on stylistically. “Magnus Red,” his new show at Moberg Gallery, presents figurative, almost narrative, paintings that comment on the excesses of modern times. “Razorback” is a portrait of young “master of the universe.” “Casanova,” “First Born,” “Rogue” and “Apollo” all reveal human vanities on other bonfires. Davis admitted that the new show is “liturgical” and a natural segue for an artist who was raised by theological scholars. It’s also Davis’ Iowa show for at least two years. Just as he outgrew street fairs, he’s now matured beyond the annual exhibition cycle.

All-Iowa Exhibit at Olson-Larsen

Five of Iowa’s best known artists are featured in Olson-Larsen Galleries Fall exhibition through November 24. John Beckelman develops distinctive ceramics, with an excavated appearance. He throws bowls, bottles, and vessels on a potter’s wheel, fired to about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a residual salt atmosphere. Karen Chesterman’s large oil paintings deconstruct both color and texture. For this show, Carlos Ferguson introduces sculpture into his repertoire, with multimedia installations of airplanes in flight. He also shows several small, minimal landscape paintings. Thomas Jewell-Vitale’s abstract oil and wax compositions suggest a birds-eye perspective. Joseph Patrick, an Iowa icon as a painter, shows photographs that dramatize the glories of Oaxaca’s legendary market.


Des Moines Art Center’s “Enrique Chagoya: Borderlandia” is the first American retrospective of the Mexican-born, Northern California painter’s 25 year career. It’s perhaps the most political exhibition in DMAC history, taking a nasty swipe at a litany of villains of the left wing, from Jesus and the Conquistadors to Pete Wilson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney. Francisco Goya and Philip Guston are updated in service of the cause… “Apes Helping Apes” at Zanzibar's (October 21 - November 24) features mostly acrylic paintings by orangutan and bonobo artists-in-residence at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa. All proceeds help preserve the wilds of apedom from Sumatra to Rwanda… The women of Iowa Correctional Institution for Women will exhibit their work at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Urbandale through November, with a public reception November 2... Metro Arts Alliance’s 20th annual Two Rivers Expo will be November 2 - 4 at Hy-Vee Hall with 130 artists from 14 states represented. The event is MAA’s major fundraiser and helps support the group’s good works.

September 2007

The Month of Punning Dangerously

September is New Year’s Eve for the art world, where even grown ups mark time on the school year calendar. To insure champagne-worthy kick-offs, most museums and galleries schedule some of their strongest shows in month nine. This year, the arts communities of greater Des Moines (minus Drake, Grandview and Ankeny) created a co-operative new September event, Art Stop, bussing visitors among their various venues. Despite sporadically timed busses, the event was a good idea that could develop into a genuine tourist attraction.

To accommodate Art Stop, Frank Hansen previewed his new exhibition “Using What I Got to Get Where I Want,” which runs through October 6 at Moberg Gallery. Even Hansen’s film biographer Mark Kneeskern showed up from Texas, sometimes filming people reacting to a film of Hansen painting obsessively. Hansen openings are unlike other local art events. One first timer said last week’s reception reminded him of “a shelter house during a thunderstorm at a biker picnic.” The gallery catered to this rather different crowd by persuading Hansen to create limited edition T-shirts, titles of which can not be printed in this column. They sold like six packs at closing time.

The emotionally autobiographic nature of Hansen’s paintings hits people with very different punches. “A Sad Bear Waves Goodnite” made one person tear up and another laugh. At least two of the new paintings are contemplations on Hansen’s wife, the artist Holly Hansen. One of them also graced the exhibition invitation, which one art lover returned it to the gallery, complaining that it offended his mailbox and asking to be removed from Moberg’s mailing list. Yet many others thought Hansen‘s “The Mystery of Wife” was a sweet ode to his spouse.

Several of the paintings are visual puns: “And The Whore Ran Away With The Spoon” is painted on found objects, making the whore is a real dish; “Idle Time On The Devil's Day” was created entirely from items found after a Halloween party; “Pocahontas Moneyshot” is a story of cross-species pollination painted on Disney memorabilia; “Lookin’ for Love ” has several puns walking in a pair of striped pants, the likes of which have not been seen in public since the days of Sergeant Pepper. Hansen said these were his favorite pants at age 3.

Humorists also plays with puns at From Our Hands Gallery (FOH), through September 22, and Heritage Gallery (HG), through October 5. At FOH artists collaborated on ceramic creations. Linda Lewis and Sharon Nelson Vaux always deliver layered Reginald Marsh-caliber comedy with their sculptures, this time they play on other artists’ stages. HG’s “Lucia Hwang and Joyce Lee” debuts Hwang’s original style, which in one case employed the hand-dipped lifetime egg production of a factory hen - in a comment on high fashion. Which came first, the chicken, the egg or the Louis Vuitton purse?

The Veterans Hospital recently hosted an exhibition of the best paintings produced by veterans working in a hospital art workshop. Many were painting for the first time and almost all were painting for therapy. Most created idyllic, comforting scenes of mountains, lakes and such. One anonymous painted confronted his demons head on, painting crocodile jaws in intriguing close-up.
“Our hope was that we could engage veterans who have not had an opportunity to express their talent or to put voice to their problems or pain,” explained Project Director Don Dunagan. This program is totally funded by private contributions (515-223-1982).

Blair Benz and Bonney Goldstein star in a new group show at Olson-Larsen Galleries, through October 6. Charcoal master Benz follows up on his last psychologically charged exhibition of troubled souls with some calming delicacies. Intricately detailed shells, insects and flowers are framed and cloistered like monks on retreat. Other artists call abstract painter Goldstein “an artist’s artist” and check out her new works from all sorts of strange angles. For this exhibition, she delivered a new, darker mood to her “diary“ technique of layering, scratching and scarring canvasses into records.

August 2007

The Bloodroot Whisperer

August is the dark hole of the art continuum which makes it the appropriate time for Mary Kline-Misol to shine. Even within the eccentric orbit where artists circulate, Kline-Misol is a breakaway comet lighting her own way. The painter brightens the month this year with two big shows: a mammoth career retrospective; plus a separate exhibition of all new works.

“I have ‘little person complex,’ so I need to do big work,” she laughed.
Kline-Misol is best known for her 20 year cycle of reflections upon Lewis Carroll’s “Adventures in Wonderland,” but her more recent subjects have been as down to earth as forests, gypsies, livestock and the wild west. Last week a Kline-Misol retrospective opened at Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames. The show, which runs through October 7, also includes a few new paintings. One is a companion for her Bosch-like “From the Faerie Queen Garden,” which was her homage to Richard Dadd, “the most psychotic painter in history” according to Kline-Misol. To balance Dadd’s schizophrenic fantasies, she has now created a William Shakespeare dreamscape dedicated to other aspects of the same fairy world.

Kline-Misol also painted some new abstract paintings of “women renegades” to play with her portraits of old “buffalo girls” like Annie Oakley, which were inspired by the painter’s grandmother, a real buffalo girl in her day. Altogether, the Octagon exhibition includes 36 large paintings covering her entire career. Any connection among these diverse, fantastical subjects is hiding in Kline-Misol’s consciousness, which operates on a purer blend of ether than yours or mine.
“Bloodroot speaks to me,” admits an artist who paints 10 hours a day, six days a week, sometimes with her fingers.

“I inherited the obsessive-compulsive gene and I need to paint, to layer paint on canvass, to stretch heavy canvasses. I wish I could paint on burlap. Just going into the studio gives me the most joy I think I can experience in life. It’s a good thing that I paint,” she admits.
All her big subjects seem suspended between consciousness and dreaming. But don’t expect any clues about how that relates to the artist.
“I am not a confessional artist. It breaks the spell,” she said, before tossing us a bone.

“I think my paintings occupy a static stage in which images seem frozen in time - a moment of suspended animation. Perhaps, it is a glimpse into the realm, not of the senses, but of dreams and childhood visions,” she said.

Last winter Kline-Misol began working earnestly on a painted history of performing chickens. “Chicken Act,” a series of six such paintings, will fly the coop this Thursday at Hentschel Art Gallery. 

“My father used to take me to Riverview (Park in Des Moines, which closed in 1978). After he died I started experiencing memories about it and one of the most vivid was of these chickens that would play piano and sing opera, for a dime. I started painting a piano-playing chicken and then I did a chicken that rides a unicycle. Pretty soon I had a whole carnival full of performing chickens,” Kline-Misol explained, matter-of-factly.

Because the artist moved to Clive recently from thicker woods outside Panora, we asked if the suburbs effected her art.

“Oh definitely, but only in positive ways. I am much happier here. But we still have a large backyard and I still rescue animals,” Kline-Misol said.
She explained that a cardinal which had been left for dead last winter now flies around her bedroom and her rescue cat, Conscious Pilot, has adapted well to Rizzo, a retired racing greyhound.

“Conscious Pilot likes to jump on Rizzo’s back and ride him,” she said, perhaps shedding some light on the inspiration for her circus-class chickens.


“Frank Hansen” will open at Moberg Gallery August 21. The official opening (always an walk on the wild side with Hansen fans) will be September 14... A show of new works by Blair Benz, Sharon Booma, Dan Mason,Jan Zelfer-Redmond and Bonney Goldstein will open at Olson-Larsen Gallery September 7.
July 2007

Larger than (something derived from) life

WHO TV covered an art show recently! That doesn’t happen very often and the station showed great instincts for recognizing a significant event. Moberg Gallery’s “Sculpture” is a coming out party for Robert Craig, a Des Moines artist with monumental talent. I’ve seen his sculptures before on college campuses, but before this show not even Craig had ever seen more than one of his “skeuomorphic” works in the same place at the same time.

“Skeuomorph” is a word academic designers use to scare the rest of us. Basically it means “derived from as opposed to copied.” These sculptures may resemble familiar objects like teapots, et cetera, but it would be so very Oldenburg to call them teapots, et cetera. Still Craig’s sculptures fit Des Moines like the form of a glove-like thing. Our town rests in the Crusoe Umbrella shade of the Oldenburg prairie, half way between the “Shuttlecocks” and the “Cherry Spoon.” This is the perfect place for a post-Oldenburg, post-Calder re-construction of sculpture. And it’s about time someone showed us that Craig is attempting that.
One powerful small piece amid several giants appears to make a statement on industrial age fishing. An amphibious boat-tank hauls gargantuan tusks, as if forbidden walrus ivory has been snared in it’s maniacal coat wire nets. That’s how these sculptures perk my imagination anyhow.
Three well known painters also brought sculpture to this party: John Phillip Davis shows his first ever free standing piece; Toby Penney introduces vegetable sculptures real enough to bite; and Chris Vance has some new wall pieces. TJ Moberg, Stretch, Bob Cooper and Tom Moberg all contributed new work too.

“Shades of Greatness: Art Inspired by Negro Leagues Baseball” is a mixed media presentation as dazzling and tragic as its subject. There’s a commendable local historical angle too - displays feature the Sioux City Ghosts, the Iowa Colored Cowboys and the Des Moines Hot ‘n Tots, who featured football Hall of Famer Johnny Bright on their national runners-up team of 1952. “Hot ‘n Tot” I learned is now considered racist because it mimics African American speech patterns. I guess such a team today would be called the Ebonics.

The museum deserves credit for not glossing over Cap Anson, who is described in the show as “a major influence among major league elitists to ban blacks from the game in the 1890’s.” In 1886 Anson refused to let his Chicago team play until Fleetwood Walker was removed from the Toledo lineup. “Get the nigger off the field” was how Anson‘s “influence“ was reported. That’s not included here though. Nor was that part of the old boy’s “influence” included by the Des Moines Register when it saw fit to induct Anson into its hall of fame.

Anson‘s historical depth is shortchanged on a second count too. The exhibition describes his “strong racist views” as “unquestioned.” In reality, some people find Anson’s racism dubiously enigmatic. In his autobiography he revealed deep respect and remarkably un-racist attitudes toward Native Americans, especially considering that Anson was the first white child born in Marshall County.

But we came for the art not the sociology. There’s a fantastic art show lurking amid some poster art and some caricatures. Minimalist symbolism powerfully serves Larry Welo, John Ferry, Rob Hatem and Raelee Frazier. Bonnye Brown captures the joy of the game with her portrait of prototypical groupies. Kadir Nelson knocks the socks off the definition of role models, with his portraits of Willie Foster and Andrew Rube Foster. This game lasts through October 28.

Heritage Gallery opened Iowa Exhibited 22 with a lot of refreshing, first time artists being shown. For once, there’s not a single watercolor tulip or iris in this exhibit. Among highlights: Watercolorist Arjes Youngblade works in three dimensions; Peggy Jester shows inexpensive minimalist embossed prints that stopped person after person their tracks; Larry Gregson shows three works, in three different styles; The judge’s favorite works, by Jeff Rider, revealed good senses of humor and style.

June 2007

Summer Blockbusters

Like a state fair for shoppers, Des Moines Arts Festival (DMAF) will pack the city’s hotels and restaurants next weekend. This three day event in Western Gateway Park brings enough music and fireworks to turn art shopping into a source of civic pride. We’re number 3! (Or number 25 if you rank by total sales instead of by less objective criteria). DMAF will attract an estimated 200,000 visitors. That equates to more than 330 battalions, or half-again the number of troops stationed in Iraq. These soldiers of commerce will converge on a bivouac of 160 tents that require 62 hours to reach full erection. They will service 20 food concessionaires and 179 art vendors, most of whom are equipped to accept major credit cards. Plus two interactive mural billboards - based on true paintings by Van Gogh.

Local hotels will be further stressed by the fan base for Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO), whose 35th season begins this weekend. DMMO’s cosmopolitan audience comes from some 35 states and 3 foreign countries. This year the company detours its traditional program with not one, but two “the slut-must-die” classics (“Carmen” and “Otello”) plus a rare melodic modern opera ( “A Midsummer Night‘s Dream.”) “Carmen” will be a coming out party for local girl Janara Kellerman. She’s been singing lead roles for a few years, but this will be the Simpson grad’s first Carmen, a role she will also cover next year for New York City Opera.

In “Dream” rising star and counter tenor Randall Scotting will sing Oberon to longtime audience favorite Jane Redding’s Titania. Their duets are so lovely they have changed the way people think about 20th century opera. Alan Glassman brings a rangy tenor to Verdi’s tragic Otello, who will be fooled again by the wily Iago, while former DMMO apprentice Dana Beth Miller returns to sing Verdi’s drop dead gorgeous “Willow Song” and “Ave Maria.”

The city’s brick & mortar art scene is also alive around the hottie solstice. Moberg Gallery’s “New Artists” show brings Davenport’s storied painter Leslie Bell to Central Iowa. Bell’s magical realist narratives explore innocence, and its evil twin, in a most contemporary style. Recent UNI grad Noah Doely reveals a new phase of his prodigious talent. Doely sculpts mythic creatures with perishable materials like paper mache, then records them photographically. In previous work, shown at the Des Moines Art Center, he used digital color photography which exposed the illusions. At Moberg he’s working with ambrotype backed with ruby glass, a medium that gives sea monsters the authentic look of a Mathew Brady photo. It’s appropriate summer entertainment in a galaxy not so far away. Wayne Norton, a photographer with an eye for Iowana, and Jeffrey Thompson, a graphic pop artist with an eye for subtle irony, complete the cast of this show, through July.

Olson-Larsen Gallery exhibits its purest Iowa Landscape show in memory - no Arizona deserts, nor Montana sierras this time around. Just the beauty of Midwestern summer. Hung side-by-side, the works of two artists contribute a trompe d’oeil to the show. The venerable Genie Patrick exhibits oils as softly smudged as Mary Cassatt pastels. Patrick said she “scumbles” the paint on the canvass, wearing out three or four paint brushes per painting. Her works share a wall with Bobbie McKibbin’s high definition pastels, which seem more like oils. Gary Bowling, Dave Gordinier and Betsy Margolius join them, through July 14.

Des Moines’ newest gallery, Hentschel AG, opens a full rainbow exhibition by Brazilian Edson Campos’ and Floridian Kathleen Brodeur. "Post-Romanticism" will run June 27, through August 11... Art Dive and Fitch Gallery, less than a block apart in Gateway West, will both host opening receptions Friday June 22. Rob Reeves, Jena Klanrenbeek, Kevin House, Dan Schuster, Bekah Ash, Christine Mullane, Judy Wipple, Jack Wilkes, Dana Schaeffer, and Timi Snyder will be one place or the other, but not at this year’s DMAF… Fort Dodge’s Blanden Museum reprises a legendary New York City art show of 1947 - a veritable Alfred Stieglitz’s greatest hits, through July 6.

May 2007

Orientation of Iowa Art

It was not an ordinary evening at the Des Moines Art Center Downtown. African-Americans played jazz riffs on woodwinds while South Asian percussionists backed them on tablas. Musical scores alternated between eight and twelve note scales. That fusion of raga and jazz was symbolic of the opening of the Iowa Artist Exhibit. Artistic creativity depends upon the clash and synthesis of displaced ideas and Asia is the most displaced of all continents in Iowa. For this year’s exhibit, the Art Center invited three artists whose work is filled with Asian inspirations.
Charlotte Cain lives in Fairfield, the most Asian of Iowa towns, and treks through India and Nepal about half of each year. Her art is mostly Indian, but on a simple symbolic level, it brings together disparate South Asian concepts as only a traveler-artist can. Cain mixed the curly, leafy contours of Dravidian motifs, from tropical southern India, with the cold chiseled scripts of Sanskrit and Hindi, Aryan languages of the north. She synthesizes folk rituals, such as kolam and rangoli, into her iconography. Even her choice of media is fusionist: she paints with Italian gouaches on traditional hand made paper of Rajasthan. George Lowe lives near Decorah, the oddest of Iowa towns both geologically and culturally. He shows a collection of clay pitchers, jars, teapots and bowls which flaunt their imperfections with the “wabi-sabi” honor of a Japanese aesthete. Flaws distinguish and enrich each work, a concept which is best understood in Iowa by stamp collectors.

Susan Chrysler White lives in Iowa City, the most cosmopolitan of Iowa towns. Her work reminds one of Hindu-Buddhist flux and the oneness of being. For the exhibit, she dramatically installed a “waterfall of bugs” in a corner of the gallery - silk screened Plexiglas wings evolving into paper and graphite doodles that add a dimension to their buggy cousins in her large canvas paintings. Those paintings remove mandala art from its circular confinements, reminiscent of both hippy era graphic arts and Mughal iconography, but with Western techniques including painting with ketchup bottles. Through August 3, at DMAC downtown.

The best new works in Olson-Larsen Gallery’s current exhibit also have Asian accents. Paula Schuette Kraemer has been producing significant monoprints for decades, but her new art seamlessly adds photogravure techniques to her process. Her Eastern metaphysical statements are more subtle than those White and Cain brought to town. For instance, Kraemer uses butterflies literally to illustrate their metaphoric meaning - anxiety. In a series about catching and releasing butterflies, she commits mystic psychology. She also shows a Zen-like series of squirrels mindful of dogs, and vice versa. Also at Olson-Larsen, Dan McNamara returns to his famous green meditations on shorelines. As usual, they are as meticulously designed as a Japanese rock garden.

Also in Valley Junction, Chinese artist Goujun Cha appears this month at Kavanaugh Gallery. Cha shows water colors, oils on canvas and oil pastels on paper. At Ritual Coffeehouse, Singaporean-Iowan Kem Bappe illustrates jazz instruments with calligraphic minimalism.

Roosevelt Reincarnation

Joan Hentschel opened Des Moines’ newest gallery this month, in the former Karloyn Sherwood space in the Shops at Roosevelt. “New Beginnings,” Hentshel’s grand opening exhibition, will debut May 20 and will feature works by two Iowans, Mary Kline-Misol and Nancy Purington, plus seven national artists. Searching coast to coast, Hentschel attracted some names, notably celestial painter Lita Albuquerque of Santa Monica, plus several interesting academic artists. She will also represent Iowans Travis Rice of Norwalk, Linda Flaherty and Pam Sanders of Fort Dodge, and Hilde DeBruyne-Verhofste of Cumming.

Milk Boat Cometh

Boaters on Lake Panorama are finding a new shore side attraction this Spring - Fred Truck’s sculpture “Mr. Milk Bottle Contemplates…” Upgrading the lake’s art from chainsaw wildlife levels, Jim Hubbell commissioned Truck’s installation.


“Tom Sachs: Logjam,” the artist’s first one-person museum exhibition in the United States, opens May 25 at the Des Moines Art Center.

April 2007

Arts Spring Back

Winter dumped several storms of anxiety on Iowa’s arts community beginning in early January when Anita Walker was passed over for reappointment to head the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA). Officially Walker resigned but layers of political coincidence suggested she wasn’t wanted on new Governor Chet Culver’s ark: She was replaced by her deputy, Cyndi Pederson, who came to DCA from former First Lady Christy Vilsack‘s staff; Pederson’s newly appointed deputy, Mary Jane Olney, came from 18 years in the state’s agricultural department, just about the only bureaucracy Democrats lost in the last election; Walker was quickly hired by Earthpark, which had figured prominently in Culver’s election campaign. The Governor belittled his opponent for favoring federal funds for that “Iowa rainforest.” Normally Iowa Democrats support all federal pork for Iowa, but Earthpark is dirty with notable Republicans from Dave Oman to Robert Ray.

From any point of partisanship, Walker accomplished important things in what had been a powerless office. Notably. she established new associations connecting artists with state departments of economic development (ED) and tourism: Cultural Trust legislation, Cultural & Entertainment Districts, Iowa Great Places, etc.. Those justified the arts community’s public lifelines to the legislature.

In bureaucracies, any new power creates disproportionate envy. Pederson’s DCA will be challenged on three fronts: DCA’s budget is flat-lined but must absorb significant salary increases; ED boys play hard ball with public money; and the arts community easily lapses into a sense of entitlement. A recent arts advocacy forum at DCA did not include a single person from ED. Only one legislator showed up and he left expressing dismay about “preaching to the choir.”

When asked about her challenge, Pederson reminded us that Walker recruited her to DCA to initiate, “and to lobby for Iowa Great Places.” That program probably impresses ED types more than anything else the DCA has ever done. In Sioux City, Great Places aegis quickly led to an Iowa State University College of Architecture Satellite Design School, a year-round indoor farmers market and relocation of the Sioux City Museum. Pederson suggested Great Places is a model for how she wants DCA to move forward.

“Mason City’s Park Hotel is an opportunity we can’t afford to lose - the last Frank Lloyd Wright hotel anywhere,” she lobbied, adding that $20 million was needed to restore the hotel.

Another anxiety storm hit in January when The Art Store, bulwark of art infrastructure since 1970, announced its building on MLK had been sold. Spring brought the good news it will relocate in June, just off the interstate on 73rd Street. In March Karolyn Sherwood announced she will close her gallery, leaving several prominent local artists without representation. Again, there was good news at press time: Richard Kelley signed with Moberg Gallery; Bill Luchsinger & Karen Strohbeen, the pick of Sherwood’s litter, followed him there a few days later; Fred Truck was too busy preparing for two upcoming shows in Japan to worry about it; Joan Hentschel announced she would take over Sherwood’s lease and open a new gallery in May; Mary Kline-Misol said she will show her larger paintings there, while keeping small works at From Our Hands.

After a winter of stress, Valley Junction’s Gallery Night brought Carnival-like relief last week. Olson-Larsen Gallery debuted new work by eight artists including the venerable Sarah Grant, Scott Charles Ross and Dan McNamara. 2AU exhibited new gold and silver work by Ann Au and Sara A. Hill and newspaper/pearl constructions by Kiwon Wang. Through May 26.

Anthony Pontius’ new show, which opened last week at Moberg, will be his only Iowa show this year. It’s squeezed among two in New York City and one each in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Indiana. It might well be Pontius’ last Iowa show. He can’t paint fast enough to sell his works and his stint as artist-in-residence at the Des Moines Art Center is winding down.

Last Drop

Bondurant’s Chris Vance won a tough competition to provide art branding for the Des Moines Art Festival billboards and T-shirts.
March 2007

Designing Winter

Des Moines Playhouse’s John Sayles retrospective precipitated a winter storm of graphic arts. Sayles has probably won more advertising awards than all the other graphic designers in Iowa combined, still the four-decade scope of this exhibition was a revelation. Even Sayles admitted he was overwhelmed to see his entire “family of work together.” A keen sense of ambiguity distinguishes him as both an ad-man and an artist - he knows how to grab your eyeball and then fool it with an unexpected twist.

Karolyn Sherwood Gallery’s “Once Upon Our Time in America“ followed the Playhouse show like snow after freezing rain, exhibiting another application of graphic designs. In a previous career, Tom Jackson quickly rose from illustrator to Creative Director at Stamats, which is eastern Iowa’s approximation of the Meredith Corporation. He still employs a graphic designer’s sensibility for surprise.

“I am intentionally ambiguous because I want viewers to have enough information to see new ways to make connections,” he explained.
Even his methods are drenched in ambiguity - oil paintings look like photographs and watercolors look like digital prints. A more obvious duality comes from original technique. In a series called “Spammed,” he combines familiar symbols with unsolicited e-mail titles, posing two questions: “What does it mean to be a man, or woman, in America today?;” and “What’s the easiest route to happiness?”

Answers come in iconic forms. For instance, two images from “The Wizard of Oz” - ruby slippers and a tornado cloud - accessorize “where would you find anything better?” Significantly, the slippers are made of red rhinestones and have high heels. They reappear in another work with less innocent, but more contemporary, modifications - even higher heels and fish net stockings.

“I just wanted to say something about the American myth in contemporary terms,” Jackson explained, adding that you can’t do that without cowboys.

“Lost America” is little boy’s cowboy dream, wearing a pink polka dot bandana and riding a horse that has all four feet impossibly off the ground. At the other end of innocence, “Half Cocked” shows a Colt 45 revolver built entirely of pharmaceuticals. In the photographic montage “Smoking Cowboy,” Jackson juxtaposes a stubble faced Marlboro man with the fully cocked plastic cowboy mascot for a family restaurant plus a cocktail waitresses’ midsection. The most ambiguous work is “Cowboyin‘” which shows a man in black riding his white horse out of New York’s Central Park and away from a romanticized skyline that could evoke any decade in the last 100 years.

“Des Moines’ Painter”

Chris Vance is surely the most collected contemporary Des Moines painter. Because of that popularity, Vance pushes himself into contradictory, non-commercial territories. In “Hinged,” at Moberg Gallery, he goes out of his way to make some things non-functional - even nailing doors and drawers shut in wall sculptures. At other times, he makes an opposite point - an odd candle in one installation suggests the utility of a shelf.

Vance has often called his paintings “my diary.” In that respect, the narrative is becoming that of a maturing, family man. The anxieties of any father of 14 year old girls come through in “Teen Aged Boys in America.” And “Baseball Careers Cut Short” tells of parental interference from two sides of the backstop. Vance’s palette has also matured this year, away from bright colors and toward earth tones. “Table Top” demonstrates a wizened Japanese aesthetic, barely accentuating the beautiful flaws of the aged wood (“sabi”) upon which he paints.
“In the past, I would have probably painted over it several times, I don’t need that kind of control now,” explained a man who always keeps an eye open for flowers in the garbage.

“Probably 90 per cent of the woods in my sculptures were pulled out of dumpsters,” he admitted, adding that he ardently admired an old wooden locker door that artist John Philip Davis kept in his studio.

“Finally, John got tired of me asking what he was going do with it and gave it to me,” Vance confessed. It’s part of the show now, through April 6.
February 2007

Michelangelo‘s Fastball

Life in a Triple A town like Des Moines is blessed by access to uncut talent. I’ve been to several World Series, but my greatest baseball thrills came at Sec Taylor Stadium watching teenagers Vida Blue and Bert Blyleven go “mano a mano” on successive nights. As when hearing rising stars in the intimate confines of the Des Moines Metro Opera, local aficionados have opportunities “to see them when,” meaning before their unpolished glow is overwhelmed by the spot light of fame.
Greater Des Moines Exhibited is a kind of an all star game for Iowa artists without agents. This year’s 13th annual event brings its usual eclectic mix to the Heritage Gallery. Meridith Tenney, Andrea Gage and Vicki Adams show off master technique. Tenney seems to be an artist to watch when she finds her own style. Vic McCullough won “Best in Show” for his acrylic and pencil still life of an antique store display. That work expertly crossed over the dominating themes of this kind of show, which in Iowa invariably mines nostalgia from family history, art history and the idyllic grange. Steward Buck and Diane Hayes are other stars in that regard.

The strength of this exhibition is also a distraction. Steve Greenquist’s sculptures dominate the gallery. Technically, they aren’t part of the show, they are left over from his previous one-man show.

“They’re just so good, it was decided to leave them up so more people could see them,” explained docent Mary Brubaker.

No artist seems to have more irreverent fun than this Ankeny art teacher. His works meticulously mess with Leonardo da Vinci, Mantegna and Michelangelo. He builds intricate Leonardo-designed machinations out of antique (of course) kiddy toys such as alphabet blocks, monopoly boards and rulers. Several sculptures comment upon smiling. While Greenquist brings classical genius down to size, he also overwhelms the other artists here - like young Vida Blue’s fastball. Through Thursday.

Concetta’s Slow Pitch

Concetta Morales, Des Moines’ medium of tropical colors, unveiled her grandest work to date in January - a 16 piece narrative mosaic covering 4000 years of Florida Panhandle history. Comprised of 144 painted tiles (fired at Dahlquist Studio in Des Moines), the work was installed in a series of butteries in Alys Beach, Florida. Public art advocates note that Morales was commissioned by Florida businessman J.T. Stephens after he saw her mosaic mural at the Des Moines International Airport.
Grand Avenue Gravity

Des Moines Art Center’s new group show “Meet the New You” explores the dynamics between humans and their ideals, particularly that of perfection. Dutch photographer Ruud van Empel digitally clones babies from various perfect body parts, yet the results always add up weirdly short of any ideal perfection. Brooklyn sculptor Bryan Crockett embalms the myth of Persephone, in resin, to remind us that perfection is as ephemeral as a point of view. Swedish animator Magnus Wallin transforms a cloned sheep into the Biblical golden calf, keeping us as wary of new millennium science as of Old Testament laws.
Within this otherwise heavy dose of futurism, levity comes from an unlikely source- Sabrina Raaf. The Chicago photographer explained that she grew up in a family of doctors where autopsy results were the normal breakfast table conversation. Yet her work supplies the only lightness and hopefulness, suspending the laws of gravity in her meditations about cosmetic surgery, murder and housework. Through May 2.

Rocketship on Mars

University artists opened a show at Mars Coffeehouse with earnest efforts in familiar modes of expression. Charlie Evans demonstrates a good sense of minimalism, showing that an etch in time saves nine. Cat Rocketship, we kid you not, brings sardonic humor, mixing notions about nature while making some cultural puns. Tianchu Ge is the eyeball-grabber, showing an original sense of color and pattern. A Ge skyline is a full-prism Rorschach test that morphs with the viewer’s perspective. That takes talent as rare as a Blyleven curve ball. Through February.

January 2007

Patricia Piccinini - Moderating Outrage

Patricia Piccinini grabs your attention with six-inch claws. And because her best-known art solicits responses from those parts of the human brain shared with reptiles, some people try to dismiss it. The cover shot on the Des Moines Art Center’s announcement of Piccinini’s exhibition “Hug,” for example, drew complaints that it exploited shock value as a gimmick. It didn’t. Gimmicks shock for the sole purpose of shocking. Piccinini’s shocking creatures are visionary solutions to frightening real world problems.

Within the debates about the morality of cloning, genetics and stem cell manipulation, Piccinini is an extreme moderate. That makes her as odd within the worlds of art and politics as any of her creations are within nature. She articulates both sides of the debates with dramatic, but even restraint.

“We can genetically engineer a certain kind of protein in milk to feed all the children in Africa, which would be a wonderful thing. Or we might patent a new form of grain and then sell it at such a high price that it will be impossible for African farmers to remain, or ever again become, self-sufficient. That would be terrible,” she posed.

After 15 years of artful mediations about such human interventions in nature, the Australian artist now accepts a quantum range of possibilities.

“I am interested in outcomes, particularly in failures — in doing the wrong thing for the right reason,” she says. “When we intervene in nature, it is always with good intentions, but thinking we are in control is always the problem. We can’t ever control the consequences of the intervention. In Australia, we imported foxes and rabbits in order to look like England. They turned instead into the biggest pests on the continent. I try to create narratives, to tell stories that demonstrate our inability to control outcomes. Maybe this is part of evolution? Maybe this is how it goes from here?”

In “Hug,” one of those stories concerns a nearly extinct bird beloved in Australia — the HeHo, or golden helmeted honeyeater. They’re dependent upon gum trees and possums to tap their food. The controversial photo on the Art Center invitations depicted a Piccinini sculpture of a genetically engineered “Bodyguard” for the HeHo — fierce enough to frighten predators and with jaws to tap gum trees. Ferocious and repulsive at first sight, the clone becomes maternal and sympathetic on closer inspection — “more like us, than unlike us” in the artist’s words.

“My Bodyguards aren’t necessarily a real solution,” she says. “Maybe the real solution is waving goodbye to many endangered species. That’s nature, too. My work hangs on that structure.”
Another story in “Hug” concerns an issue more down to the Iowa earth. “The Young Family” is based on a chimera with dominant pig genes.

“I am interested in animal organs that can be transplanted in humans and since pig organs are the least likely to be rejected, I spent some time with pigs,” she says. “I wanted to be around a sow giving birth and it was an experience I will never forget. She delivered 13 piglets, but she sat on six of them. That’s nature.

“I’m a city girl like most people in Australia and most people in the world for that matter. So it was a bit of a revelation to see that she’s full of human qualities. The disturbing thing for us is that that reflects us in a lowly point of view. Then we have to think about how we treat pigs and other animals. They are more like us than unlike us,” she reiterated.

As if to dramatize that, Piccinini explained that “The Young Family” is partly autobiographical.

“This work is about a mother thinking about her children and their future. My mother was sick from the time I was 13 until she died many years later. I would have done anything to help her. So, I don’t find it problematic to consider organs transplanted from creatures that aren’t genetically all human. Confronting a pig mother and her own dilemma of destiny is just as emotional for me.

“I am pregnant now. My sister is depressed and her mother was depressed when pregnant with her — depression prevents the transmission of seratonin to the fetus. We never know to what extent we interfere with the outcomes of others. But when we do know, it evokes new questions about how to behave. It’s all about education. Letting people know so they can make good choices about how to behave. Education is part of nurturing and nurturing is a big, big part of my work,” she says.

Piccinini and her clones will be nurturing Des Moines at a lecture Jan. 17 at Levitt Auditorium, at a preview party Jan. 18 and at her opening Jan. 19, both at the Downtown DMAC. “Hug” runs through April 6.


Karolyn Sherwood’s “You Are Here” features affordable works by household names, from Donald Judd to Cecily Brown, Claes Oldenburg to Roy Lichtenstein, through Feb. 12… Other group shows open Friday at Heritage Gallery (“Greater Des Moines Exhibited”) and Drake’s Anderson Gallery (faculty art); and Feb. 2 at Mars CafĂ© (Drake student art). The Ankeny Art Center hosts a quilt show through March 2.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jim. I appreciate the acknowledgement on the DeWaay Capital Management Headquarters.